"I think the most powerful thing is being a role model in this, and being curious about how other people are doing. If you want someone else to lead a healthy lifestyle, you'd better lead a healthy lifestyle yourself."
"You really have to draw the story out of the family and the young person. You have to listen. You have to make them feel safe. I think you have to be interested, and you can’t fake that. You have knowledge. You are genuine."
When she was in her early 20s, Kent Jackson’s mother left North West Tasmania to live in London.
There, she met and fell in love with a Jamaican boxer, a British champion. Things got complicated and she ended up back on the North West Coast, a single mother of triplets.
“She was a single mum but a really good mum with a supportive extended family,” says Kent. “I grew up in Smithton, in the housing commission. But we were lucky enough. There were kids everywhere.”
This was long before Netflix, Kent says, when kids just played.
“It was cricket in the summer and basketball and footy at other times. Somebody would bring the bat, someone would bring the ball, someone else would bring the wickets.”
There was poverty in the community. There was violence, in homes and on the streets. He and his brothers and friends didn’t get a lot for Christmas. But Kent thinks more about the joy of his childhood than anything else. “Ultimately, I look back and I even appreciate the adversity because it helped me in everything I did.”
Today, Kent is a team leader in Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS). The young people and families trust him partly because he understands adversity. “You really have to draw the story out of the family and the young person. You have to listen. You have to make them feel safe. I think you have to be interested, and you can’t fake that. You have knowledge. You are genuine.”
Kent holds a lot of knowledge: as an elite athlete, an entrepreneur, a community volunteer, and thanks to the courage to go back to school at 29, as a social worker.
After playing professional football in Adelaide, Kent came home and started a gym. He coached. He was starting his day at six in the morning and often coming home after ten at night.
“One day my wife said, ‘Hey Kent, you’re probably doing 80 or 90 hours of work a week and you’re not even making as much money as your brothers. You should go back to school.’ She was a teacher and she had just finished her degree. She said, ‘You should go to university.’ And I said, ‘University? What’s that?’”
It wasn’t easy. Kent, the young athlete, had left school after grade ten. But after years of hard work he emerged with a Masters in Social Work from the University of Tasmania. From his mother to his wife, fellow university students to co-workers, the pattern Kent sees in his life is the wisdom of listening to smart and supportive women.
One of those women tapped him on the shoulder one day and said: You should go work in CAMHS. Again, he listened and acted.
“There’s a theme of — whether it's by coincidence or not — building respectful relationships and earning respect, and I think a lot of my journey has been on the back of others pointing me in a certain direction.”
It’s a direction Kent has prepared for his entire life, from the tight community in Smithton, to sport, to personal training, to his deep interest in looking after young people. He listens, he empathises, and he finds a balance between professionalism and becoming a part of his clients’ lives.
“Our stereotypical client would be a 15-year-old who has autism, who's never been diagnosed with it, who has ADHD, who's never been diagnosed with it, who is transgender, who hasn't been supported for it, who has a complex trauma history, and who has significant family intergenerational issues. Who's now homeless at 15. That cohort would take up 30% of our resources, because you're trying to do so much stuff. Who's their primary carer? Who's going to parent this kid? Where are they living? How do we keep them alive? What's going to happen through their gender journey? How about school? It's like a supermarket of things you've got to do for that one person.”
Kent says his first role is to help parents bring up good young people, which is the core of his day job and as a coach and president of the Wynyard Football Club. He finds pathways for young people in North West Tasmania to be proud and confident, to work hard, to find fellowship and meaning in who they are and what they do.
I think the most powerful thing is being a role model in this, and being curious about how other people are doing. If you want someone else to lead a healthy lifestyle, you'd better lead a healthy lifestyle yourself.
There is some pressure in being a leader, as it can seem like everyone looks to Kent to set the tone – at work and in his volunteer life. “You have to remain calm and cool,” he says. “You model composure. You model emotional intelligence. You model kindness. You model reliability.”
He could have remained in Adelaide. He could have moved across the world for adventures and remained there, especially after reconnecting with the Jamaican side of his family. But when Kent was away he missed this place and its people, their spirit. Kent’s heart remained in Tasmania, both because of the impact he can make on his lifelong community and because it has allowed him to build a life around what he loves.
“You've got to have a life outside work where you can just not think about yucky stuff, but do some positive stuff, whatever that means for you. It might be gardening for some people, it might be bushwalking, mountain biking, or footy. Whatever it is, it’s got to balance the distress that we wade through, in our work life. I think the most powerful thing is being a role model in this, and being curious about how other people are doing. If you want someone else to lead a healthy lifestyle, you'd better lead a healthy lifestyle yourself.”